The Florida Panthers are off to a dismal start. Six games into the new year the Panthers find themselves staring at a 1-5-0 record, placing them 5th in the Southeast Division and last in the Eastern Conference. The offense is sputtering while the defense and goaltenders are stumbling.
Panthers fans have a right to be concerned. However, are the Panthers really this bad or is their poor start partially due to bad luck?
Let's talk about variance. Variance is one of those difficult concepts to wrap your head around in the world of sports. The term is usually reserved for baseball, where stats such as BABIP (batting average on balls in play) is a true indicator of how lucky a hitter is getting on pitches he puts in play. A large or small BABIP might allow the fan to predict an upcoming hot or cold streak.
In hockey, it's a bit more complicated. Typically we're forced to look at previous career trends and apply them to the present. Generally, this helps prognosticators paint a pretty accurate forecast of what's to come but it can be a flawed science.
In the case of the Florida Panthers, there are notable trends that are too poor to reflect the actual team on the ice. The biggest indicator of this is the team's shooting percentage. Shooting percentage might be the NHL's answer to the MLB's BABIP. If a player has an enormously bloated shooting percentage, it's safe to bet he'll regress. By the same token, if a player is shooting extremely poorly, he'll likely see a rise in his percentage as more favorable bounces/deflections find the back of the net.
The Florida Panthers are currently shooting 5.9% as a team. This percentage is last in the NHL, trailing the top ranked Tampa Bay Lightning (16.4%) by a significant margin.
Are the Florida Panthers going to shoot that poorly over the rest of the 2013 season? Not a chance. According to Quant Hockey, the average shooting percentage in the NHL during the 2011-12 season was 8.94%. At the time of this article, the NHL average in 2013 is 9.35%. Looking back to previous years, the Panthers were at 8.1% in 2011-12 and 7.7% in 2010-11.
Simply put, the Panthers will see a rise in their shooting percentage. Pucks will bounce and trickle in that aren't currently crossing the line. In terms of variance, the Panthers are on the short end of the stick but those numbers will eventually right themselves as more games unfold.
Let's talk goalies.
Jose Theodore owns a 1-4-0 record with a 3.48 GAA over the course of five starts. His backup, Scott Clemmensen, is 0-1-0 with a 4.80 GAA. These numbers aren't pretty but you have to remind yourself – it's early. What we've seen in the season's first handful of games might not be a true indicator of a player's true talent.
In 2011-12, Theodore posted a 22-16-11 record with a tidy 2.46 GAA. Currently, he's more than a full goal over last year's total. Has Theodore suddenly lost that much talent? Probably not. That ugly number is partially due to the fact his defenders are allowing the most shots in the NHL, nearly 35 a game. Theodore will improve. His career GAA is 2.67. The shots that are currently finding their way through his pads or deflecting off his own defenders will even out and his numbers will start to trend back toward his career averages. Just like Florida's shooters should see an increase in their shooting percentage, Florida's opponents should eventually see a decrease in their shooting percentage.
The sample of data out of Florida is still far too small to write this team off. They've played extremely poorly in their first six game, but they're capable of better. While we can probably associate some of the team's poor play on bad breaks and bad luck, there's a lot to be concerned about. The Panthers need to right the ship and in a hurry.
Some of the bad breaks and bad bounces will start to even out, but will it be enough to turn things around in Florida?
Photo courtesy of Bauer.com